April 3rd, 2007

Clanmacnois Tower

Theological Notebook: Magister, Benedict on Christianity and European Identity

Sandro Magister's article, with Benedict XVI's text, on the question of the public and historical role of Christianity in Europe's identity and ethics.

An “Apostate” from Itself: The Lost Europe of Pope Benedict

Even before its separation from God, Joseph Ratzinger sees the old continent withdrawing from itself, from “its very identity.” Fifty years after the Treaty of Rome, the most critical assessment is that of the pope. Here it is

by Sandro Magister

ROMA, March 28, 2007 – Fifty years after the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which in 1957 brought into life what today is the European Union, Benedict XVI has formulated a very severe diagnosis of the status of the continent. He has even come to the point of stating that Europe is falling into a “remarkable form of apostasy.”

John Paul II also spoke of “apostasy,” in the sense of the abandonment of the faith, in the 2003 apostolic exhortation “Ecclesia in Europa.” But Benedict XVI has gone even further. He has accused Europe of being ever more frequently an apostate “from itself, even before [being an apostate] from God”: to the point of “doubting its very identity.”

The pope formulated this diagnosis while receiving in the Vatican’s Sala Clementina on March 24 the cardinals, bishops, and politicians who were taking part in a conference organized in Rome by the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, COMECE, dedicated to the theme of “Values and perspectives for the Europe of tomorrow.”

Among the Catholic politicians who spoke at the conference were the president of the Italian council of ministers, Romano Prodi; the president of Ireland, Mary McAleese; and the president of the European parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering.

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Get it right.

Theological Notebook: Steinfels on Books on Morton Smith allegedly fabricating "Secret Mark"

As if it weren't hard enough for the average educated person to know what to take seriously in our current cultural climate of encouraging philosophical and theological ignorance as "open-mindedness!" Now Steinfels highlights that even a significant scholar at a serious university – not one of these "Discovery Channel" experts – seems to be implicated in the sheer fabrication of an ancient document. I've always been casually familiar with the text in question – "Secret Mark" – but I'll be curious to hear what a real specialist in this area like our own Fr. Kurz has to say. I'm missing my time reading The Letter of James with him this afternoon in order to sit still and recover. My nose itches like crazy under this bandage. Anyway, at least Steinfels entertains in this column with having fun with the ridiculous nature of the sensationalism in this area that gets reported all too seriously by the inexpert news media.

The New York Times
March 31, 2007
Was It a Hoax? Debate on a ‘Secret Mark’ Gospel Resumes


Imagine the discovery of a previously unknown Gospel of Mark, a secret text suppressed by church authorities that pictured Jesus initiating his disciples with a hallucinatory, nocturnal and quite possibly homosexual rite. Imagine the headlines, the four-alarm book promotion and the cable network special.

Ho-hum, you say? Isn’t it simply Easter season, when fresh Gnostic gospels or dubious ossuaries show up like spring daffodils?

Ah, but those with long memories know that just such a “secret Gospel of Mark” once did make headlines. In 1973, Morton Smith published both a dense scholarly tome (“Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark,” Harvard University Press) and a popular book (“The Secret Gospel,” Harper & Row) describing a manuscript that he had found in a Greek Orthodox monastery south of Jerusalem.

Used as reinforcement for the binding of an early modern book, it was an 18th-century copy of an otherwise unknown “letter to Theodore” from Clement of Alexandria, a church father of the late second century.

Clement, in this letter, acknowledged the existence of a longer Gospel by Mark known only to initiates. Clement quoted a section involving Jesus’ raising of a young man from his tomb and a nighttime encounter in which Jesus taught the lightly clad youth “the mystery of the kingdom.” Finally, denouncing a heretical sect that had “polluted” this secret text with “carnal doctrine” and “falsifications” emphasizing the nakedness of the encounter, Clement demanded that Theodore deny the existence of this secret longer version of Mark altogether, even under oath.

This was enough to inspire reviewers with the word “sensational” — but also to cause them to question whether the passages quoted by Clement and their hints of libertinism really stemmed from the Mark who wrote the first of the four Gospels rather than from one of the many spurious texts later created by esoteric groups of Christians.

Yet there were always deeper suspicions — namely, that the whole thing, the letter from Clement and the Marcan passage it contained, was a clever forgery, perhaps the work of a mischievous medieval monk, perhaps the work of a modern scholar or perhaps even the work of — shh! — Professor Smith himself.

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Vatican/St. Peter's

Theological Notebook: More Documents on Pius XII as an enemy of the Nazis

I once attended a one-day symposium of historians (not theological historians, but rather more specialists in European history, if memory serves) who were uniformly outraged at the books of pop history that were being published that were accusing the Pope during World War II – Pius XII – of being complicit in the Holocaust. The trend had actually started in the 1970s, if I recall the date correctly, with the accusation being made in a play, rather than by anyone claiming to be an historian as such, but it became a bit of an industry in the late 1990s. The gathering of historians with university positions who engaged in peer-reviewed research, on the other hand, were appalled at what they seemed to ably demonstrate to me was nothing more than a hatchet job against Pius, who had himself been honoured by the Israeli government for his work in saving Jews from the Nazi program. Writers like Cromwell, who argued that Hitler would have entirely cancelled his war and genocidal policies if only Pius had told him he was being naughty and that he ought to cut it out, seemed less than persuasive when their arguments and data were laid out. Dan Lloyd spotted this article as one more bit of public recognition that real history cannot accuse Pius in this way, and he suggested I post this in my journal. (This is, of course, not to say that many Christians didn't have an historical role in allowing an anti-Judaism in Europe to fester into the 20th century's anti-Semitism, but that's a different issue.)

'Nazi' Pope helped Jews flee Holocaust
By Malcolm Moore in Rome
Last Updated: 1:51am BST 31/03/2007
The Telegraph

Pius XII, the wartime pontiff often condemned as "Hitler's Pope", was actually considered an enemy by the Third Reich, according to newly discovered documents.

Several letters and memos unearthed at a depot used by the Stasi, the East-German secret police, show that Nazi spies within the Vatican were concerned at Pius's efforts to help displaced Poles and Jews.

In one, the head of Berlin's police force tells Joachim von Ribbentropp, the Third Reich's foreign minister, that the Catholic Church was providing assistance to Jews "both in terms of people and financially".

A report from a spy at work in the Vatican states: "Our source was told to his face by Father Robert Leibner [one of Pius's secretaries] that the greatest hope of the Church is that the Nazi system would be obliterated by the war."

La Repubblica, the newspaper that discovered the papers, said they were sent to the heads of the Stasi, after the Second World War.

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Brown Jacket/Bookcase

Personal: Quick Update on Nose

Yesterday was my surgery for removing my skin cancer. I had a basal cell carcinoma, a non-metastasizing cancer, that appeared on my face as what I thought was an uber-zit over a year ago. Even the doctors didn't think it a cancer until a biopsy confirmed it. Why I got it is beyond me: all the leather-skinned tanner girls walking around campus who seem to be the obvious targets got passed over for me, who spends too much of the summer hiding in the library. Go figure.

Jen was beyond wonderful, taking me to and from the hospital yesterday and just taking care of me through the rest of the day. Not that I was in terribly bad condition, but she did indulge my movie choices and such, as I just had to sit still and – horrors! – try not to talk so much so that the wound stayed still. I have a huge bandage on the side of my nose, from the cancer removal and then the follow-up plastic surgery. It was the weirdest sensation: cutting the thing out of the side of my nose, then the plastic surgeon choosing not to do a skin graft, and instead cutting and peeling away part of my cheek next to the nose in order to stretch fat from underneath the cheek to use in filling in the hole left by the surgery. Then he stretched the skin back over the whole. No pain, but just a local anesthetic, so I felt it all: cutting, peeling back, clipping, pulling, sewing up. Interesting, but I'm very happy to have my own job studying ideas....

For all that, there's no pain now: I've not taken any painkillers since last night. It's just something I'm having to be über-ginger about. I was perhaps a touch light-headed from either the anesthetic or the mild blood-loss, but that isn't bothering me over-much. It's just the trying not to talk so much: it's a hard fate for an Irishman....